Notes On The 4 Subjects.

Posted May 29th, 2014 by Ben

The next page of my notebook has another note I don’t remember writing…

As well as 4 audiences there are 4 subjects that each audience is watching.
The first subject is the story, the events and characters as presented.

The second subject is often, usually, the most important to the artists, it is the theme or meaning of the story.

The third subject is the biography of the people involved, most commonly of the actors but also writers, directors and on very rare occasions some other creative figure like a producer, designer, photographer those these are rare. This subject however is often the one the audience are most interested in and it plays a great role in their understanding of the first two subjects.

The fourth subject is the opinion of the 4th audience. Not only what do the critics think but this is part of it. When you are in an audience you are also paying attention to the impact the work has had already and this colours your understanding of the other three subjects you are watching.

Again I don’t know now what I was hoping gain from writing this down. Coming back to it what interests me is the weight it gives to biography as a part of story telling.

The importance of gluing together theme and story is fairly accepted. A story with no theme is a ramble, a theme with no story is a lecture. We only really engage with a story when it tells us something, even if that’s something very simple that we already knew.

But it’s interesting to be forced to glue the artists’ biography into that same ball. Imagine “Blue Jasmine” made by Gareth Edwards. Not imagine a different film where Cate Blanchett is an atomic tortoise but imagine that same small roughly constructed and often clichéd character piece as part of the biography of a different director. I’m not trying to place a value judgement, to say it’d be better or worse, it’s just interesting how very different your experience of the film would be, even if it was identically the same film.

Blue Jasmine by Gareth Edwards

It’s the same with the 4th subject, history. Imagine watching “Citizen Kane” without knowing it’s “the best film of all time”. If other people hadn’t told me “Blue Jasmine” was a masterpiece might I have enjoyed it more? Am I watching “Blue Jasmine”? Or Woody Allen’s“Blue Jasmine”? Or Woody Allen’s late masterpiece “Blue Jasmine”?

As an artist creating work for an audience, is it enough to concentrate on theme and story? Are you not ignoring at least half of what your audience will watch? In our assessment of a film whose story are we really watching?

  1. Stuart

    I think personal values is missing. That’s what excites us and sets expectation in terms of a director/actor. Even better when either of them go against type. Remember the reaction to de Niro doing his first comedy – midnight run. He was a heathen. History gas been kinder to it than the critics at the time. Also friends of mine who will defend anything pre 85 of Dario agento think only god forgives is dull.

  2. Ben

    I quite agree with you about the impact this has, but I’d say that this is all falls under “biography”. It’s your interest in DeNiro, his life as seen through his work, that draws you to watch him trying something new. If you replace DeNiro with a less interesting actor making the same career choice then it’s a less engaging proposition.

  3. Steven Keevil

    Interesting post, something I intend to use with the students, with no credit given of course.

    Potential 5 subject: meta

    We spend time second guessing the narrative. What do I think “will” happen next, what do I think “should” happen next?

    Missing what is actually happening next.

  4. Ben

    I like that Steve. I wonder if this is better thought of “yourself” or “myself”. You’re watching your own engagement with the other four subjects. As you say this is the story (what will happen next and can I guess it right, or better) and the theme (have I worked out what this means, do I feel patronised or respected) but also the impact or history (do I agree with the reviews and opinions I’ve heard) and also the biography side (how does this help me understand the people making this film)…

    Jared Kelly (@twatterer) similarly suggested “myself” as the 5th audience… certainly makes sense when trying to think what makes people engage with a work… it’s always about me not you…

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